I was on vacation last week, trying to keep off e-mail and the internet, and failing on both counts. When I found myself needing a break from the non-stop thrills of The Hunger Games trilogy, I’d wander over to the computer and check out my favorite news sites to see what or who was going to hell now. Paris Hilton banned from Vegas? Jan Brewer smiling idiotically at the camera for an hour and a half or so in the worst debate ever? Stephen Hawking jumping on the Christopher Hitchens bandwagon and dissing God? (Well, it does seem to sell books….)
But then my pleasure reading dovetailed nicely with my need to keep up with the relentless news cycle. I was still savoring Collins’ wonderful referencing of Fahrenheit 451 in Mockingjay when I read about the Florida pastor who seems to think it a novel and fine idea to burn the Quran as a 9/11 protest and I was once again struck by the thought that it’s amazing that our civilization has managed to survive our seeming inability to learn anything from history. And, why is it that religious and political zealots always seem to vent their general hatred of humanity on books? From Savonarola to Hitler to all those crazy fundamentalists who feel threatened by the dictionary, it seems that every time someone’s pissed off about something, there’s a marshmallow roast at a literary bonfire.
Now, we here at DGLM try to stay out of the political fray as much as possible. One of the tenets of our business is the freedom of ideas and expression. Most of us who work in publishing understand that no matter how loathsome an idea it is necessary to defend its author’s right to communicate it. As readers, we can choose not to buy the book. Or, we can choose to debate and counter that author’s arguments and defeat his/her position with rational and well-conceived rebuttals. Everyone who has been a publishing professional for any length of time has occasionally had to be involved with the publication of a book whose message or viewpoint s/he did not agree with. And most of us are appalled when certain groups rally together to boycott or ban a certain title on political, religious or moral grounds.
The Florida pastor planning the latest book burning is just following in a long tradition of intolerance and ignorance. Clearly, he doesn’t understand that books, like phoenixes, rise from the flames of censorship. The Quran, the Bible, and the Torah, have survived many of these gory ceremonies and come back stronger than ever. As have Anne Frank, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and Webster’s dictionary (last I heard they keep adding new words, some of them objectionable). Of course, that kind of attempted repression often (and perversely) makes for the premise of great literature.
What do you think? Is it ever okay to burn books?